Leadership and Respect

You may remember a few weeks ago I posted about the origins of this blog and the title.  Well, here is one topic of the class that I will be presenting at FDIC and that I did at Missouri Winter Fire School.

Understand, this is only part of a dynamic that we need to understand as fire service leaders and as future leaders.  Feel free to comment and share your thoughts, experiences and view.

Thanks for reading and stay safe.

Respect is a word that is used too frequently in the fire service and in many cases is not used correctly or in the correct context.  We use the chain of command for our emergency scenes and for our communication and disciplinary actions.  The guy at the top is the Chief and is the ultimate superior in that chain and organizational chart.  Although being at the top demands respect, it should not be assumed that it is there waiting for you when you move up the ranks.  Respect is earned, not given.

I have witnessed officers that have gotten promoted and believed that they are automatically due the respect of their crew and of the organization.  This creates a real problem for both the officer and his crew from the onset.  The officer feels rejected because he is not receiving the respect he feels he deserves and the crew feels forced into following a leader who is perceived to be power hungry.  Both sides are wrong and only good communication and mutual respect for each other will cure this ailment.

As an officer, you have added responsibility and become a management tool in one form or another.  Although you have just been promoted and will now be viewed as an officer, your people will recall your prior actions to determine your initial level of respectability.  Right, wrong or indifferent, what you did and how you acted and how you treated others before you were promoted will play a large role in how you are viewed and their respect for you or lack of respect will be based on those previous observations.

It is very difficult for power mongers to earn respect from his/her people.  The officer that puts himself above his people is doomed to fail and discord will surround him and it will filter down through the organization.  The harder an officer tries to demand and gain respect when he has done nothing to earn it, the faster he loses credibility and the more transparent he becomes in regards to his motives and values.    It will not take long for this officer to feel frustrated and unwelcome in many circles in the fire house.

The officer who demands respect and does not earn it is typically one who feels that he “deserves” what he has and that the title dictates that he be respected.  Although the position must be respected, the person who fills that title can do little to gain the respect of his peers and subordinates unless he takes steps to earn the respect by his actions and attitudes.  It is not enough to wear a gold badge and some trumpets to get respect; you must put the organization and the people that you are supposed to lead before yourself.  Over time, by putting others first, an officer will slowly earn the respect of his people and peers.  But, it won’t happen overnight.

Being promoted is more than wearing a white shirt and gold badge; it is a responsibility to make the organization a better place when you leave it.  One of the primary jobs of an officer is to make sure the person that takes your place is better than you are.  If that is not accomplished, the organization becomes stagnant and reactive.  I like to look at it as a pond vs. a stream.  The pond sits and grows algae and gets a film on it from the water just sitting.  It is not inviting to drink from or swim in to cool off.  Sometimes it even stinks.  The stream is clear, cool and refreshing. You would not hesitate to cool off in this stream and to fill your canteen from it.  The area is clean and the rocks are smoothed over from the many years of the stream flowing over them.  Which is your organization? The fresh, cool, free running stream or the dank, scummy pond?  Your leaders must decide where they would rather swim.

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Jason Hoevelmann

Deputy Chief/Fire Marshal with the Sullivan Fire Protection District, a combination department, and a career firefighter/paramedic with the Florissant Valley Fire Protection District in North St. Louis County.

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